Trying to get pregnant is the fun part. This was often said to me. Obviously, they’d never been me trying to get pregnant!
I wasn’t too concerned for the first few months after we got married. Having read that ‘most couples (about 84 out of every 100) will get pregnant within a year…’ on the NHS website, I felt confident that it would happen in time. We hadn’t told anyone that we were trying to get pregnant, mainly because we wanted it to be a lovely surprise when it happened. I remember Craig saying to me that we would buy his mum a mug with ‘Nan” on for Christmas and she would, naturally, be over the moon. By Christmas, there was no need to buy a mug. A few friends had asked me whether we were thinking of starting a family and I found myself lying to them because I felt ashamed that it hadn’t happened already. I thought, at the time, that it was much better to laugh it off and say that we were focusing on married life and making time for us before life became chaotic with a child. Inside, I was screaming, ‘we’re trying to…and something isn’t right.’
One of the first things that started making me feel crazy was that I would set myself targets; I have since learnt that this is the worst thing you can ever do – our bodies aren’t keen on them. Later on, I discovered to just focus on getting from appointment to appointment but I was nowhere near this stage yet. I would say to myself ‘when we go to so and so’s wedding, I will be pregnant’. I wasn’t. ‘Next birthday, I’ll be a mum’. I wasn’t. ‘When we visit our friends in the holidays, I’ll have a bump.’ There was no bump. Driving to work with my husband at the start of the academic year (he had just secured a job at my school which later proved to be invaluable), I have a vivid memory of sitting at the traffic lights with that usual ‘back to school feeling’ all teachers and pupils tend to get. I thought, ‘I’ll be going on maternity leave this year.’ It put huge pressure on me which ultimately set me up to fail and left me feeling a fool.
Over the coming months, I mentioned it to very few people. My oldest and dearest friend, Lisa, (the pretty one with long hair I mentioned in my previous blog who I met at kindergarten – and, yes, it was called that and, no, I didn’t go to school in America as someone has since pointed out to me), knew and was extremely supportive. She said the right things, kept me distracted, listened, made me laugh and hugged me when I cried. She’s much calmer natured than me and anchors me somehow; I really don’t know where I’d be without her support, and that of all our friends, for that matter, who really have become our family – they kept us going. Never underestimate the power of friendships; they are priceless. Somehow, it’s easier. You choose your friends and there’s a reason for it. I want to write more about relationships with others whilst trying to conceive as this was a big one for us but that will have to wait for another day.
Apprehensively, I kept reassuring myself that things were just taking their time however, deep in the pit of my stomach (or quite possibly my ovaries), I really knew that something wasn’t right but I didn’t want to admit it and start seeking help. If I did, it would become real: it was my greatest fear. After a while, however, Craig encouraged me to see the doctor in November 2014. The doctor told me not to worry and that it wouldn’t be long before he would be chatting to my dad in the local pub about the joys of being a grandpa. He told me to relax and read a book – so I raced out to buy a trashy novel to solve all our problems! If only!
For the majority of people who didn’t know in those early days what was going on, I dread to think what they thought was happening to me. My life became an endless cycle of 32 days (give or take). They don’t call it a cycle for nothing. We’d get to the middle of the month, I’d jump out of bed in the morning to do an ovulation test, we’d follow the rules (every other day to ensure good quality sperm – sex loses it romance when everything becomes about timing) and then have the agonising two-week wait which is enough to mess with anyone’s head (even more so when you have the official two week wait after embryo transfer during IVF). Spending two weeks convincing myself that I had a twinge, felt sick, sore boobs and was bloated, only to discover that I was not pregnant, was mentally gruelling and exhausting. Devastation always struck even when I thought ‘this month, I’ll cope.’ Nature can be cruel. Why on earth do the symptoms of pregnancy have to be the same as the sign of your period arriving? It’s definitely someone’s idea of a savage joke. The worst times were when my period arrived a few days late (I was never exactly like clockwork) because I would convince myself that I was definitely pregnant. This added misery and made the realisation, after piles of negative pregnancy tests, all the more painful. As if this cycle wasn’t bad enough, those around me were experiencing my cycle of emotions too. The month began with optimism, hope and excitement. Next, it would move towards expectation, impatience and obsession. Then would come uncertainty, doubt, fear and anxiety only to be topped off with a huge dollop of despair, anger and hysteria. Weeping and wailing for hours always resulted in eyes so puffy that my contact lenses wouldn’t go in when I woke up and so I would have to wear my glasses – one person at work actually asked me why I always had an eye infection once a month! This cycle of fraught and hypersensitive emotions is obviously hard for some to comprehend. Because of this, we gradually began to tell more and more people, some of whom had already guessed.
Then it began. The ‘have you tried…?’ and the ‘my friend did…and now she has 10 children!’ O.k. so, maybe that’s a little exaggeration but not far off! I didn’t mind people telling me these things. They all meant well and wanted to be the one who had come up with the magic solution. What they didn’t realise was that I wasn’t able to think about anything else. Someone would say, ‘it took us 8 months to conceive.’ I’d feel hugely reassured, 8 months would pass and then I would be in turmoil over why I wasn’t like them. If someone gave me some advice, I became transfixed on it; it wasn’t healthy. I would think, ‘why on earth didn’t I think about lying on my back and pedalling my legs like I’m riding a bike? This is where we have been going wrong the whole time.’ It sounds totally insane. But I can promise you…you do it! Anything to help those little guys have an easier swim and aid them to reach their final destination unscathed! If someone had told me that it would increase my chances of getting pregnant if I’d rubbed mashed avocado on my face, wore it as a mask whilst singing the National Anthem and balancing on one leg, then there is a high chance I’d have done it. Don’t believe me? Ask others in the same boat and I can guarantee they will say the same. You will do anything to get your baby.
I did other things too.
I ate Sainsbury’s out of all their stock of protein bars (protein is very good and helps but it wasn’t enough for me), I guzzled down handfuls of brazil nuts and told myself, with a dry, bitter, nutty taste in my mouth, that it was worth it to get pregnant. I stayed lying down in bed for at least 30 minutes after we’d had sex, gave up caffeine, stopped drinking any alcohol at all (I didn’t drink much to begin with but believed that even one sip could ruin our chances), googled ‘fertility horoscopes’ that would tell me what exact month I would get pregnant and BELIEVED THEM, started running (that didn’t last long), took up my enjoyment for horse riding again (until I was told there was a small risk it could bring on a miscarriage and I freaked out), baked A LOT of cakes, took all the recommended vitamins, took my temperature daily, went swimming, did yoga, mindfulness, always planned baby making in on a full moon (again, I’d read it somewhere) and lots more.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I even once read that you were more likely to conceive if you slept in complete darkness every night and so I made sure there wasn’t the slightest chink of light in the bedroom to give us the very best chance. It was ridiculous but, at the time, it felt very sensible. It was the only thing I could control. It made me feel like I was doing something to sort the problem. I even became a ‘science boffin’, developing a talent for every acronym, scientific terminology and jargon relating to fertility possible…as you can imagine, this was a real dinner party winner for our poor friends. Everything I discovered, I believed would work for me and I ended up getting into more and more of a panic when each one failed to produce the prize. Furthermore, all the while this was happening, I was still trying to lead a ‘normal’ life and do the very best job I could as a teacher – a job I loved and wanted to excel in. My brain was overloaded and things were starting to reach crisis point. Craig was concerned about me and I was starting to get very, very frightened.
In June 2015, I met up with an old school friend. We were always close but had grown apart a little bit due to our hectic lives. She came to our wedding and we had started meeting up more regularly again. I told her what was happening and admitted to her that the last time she had asked me about babies, I had, in fact, lied. I told her we were trying everything and nothing was happening. It was getting on for a year and I was like a rabbit in the headlights, scared to move yet wanting to run. She told me about a lady who specialised in fertility acupuncture in her village. She had helped someone else that she knew and thought it might be worth a shot. I had nothing to lose so I called her.
I remember the first time I phoned her and thinking how warm and motherly her voice sounded. She called me ‘darling’ which instantly put me at ease. If I hadn’t made that call, I’m fairly certain that I wouldn’t be sitting here, writing my blog with my daughter asleep on my lap. It may sound cheesy but she became my guardian angel – ironic as she calls everyone ‘angel’ herself. It doesn’t bear thinking about if we hadn’t met her.
Sally Lissaman was what I had been waiting for. She understood. Completely. We clicked instantly. Even after our first meeting, I felt like she had taken the reigns and that I could breathe a little easier again. I had to be a ‘patient patient’ and I would be lying if I said this was easy. We worked together every week for two years (so it wasn’t a quick fix) and, in that time, we experienced euphoric highs, earth-shattering lows but, also, lots of laughter too. Sally and I talked. Talked and talked and talked. It was therapy. I could say anything I wanted and she got me. I had finally found someone who knew why I was feeling and behaving in certain ways. She never judged me and our conversations wrapped me in warmth, making me feel safe and heard. As soon as Craig met her, (he is usually fairly sceptical about alternative medicine), he walked out telling me he saw just what I did in her. She had scooped us up and was willing to go the extra mile to help us become a family. With encyclopedic knowledge of fertility, Sally also took away all the need for researching. I stopped googling as much. When I had a question, I’d text her and she would reply with the truth. She knows near enough everything anyone will ever need to know about trying to get pregnant and has worked closely with many fertility doctors – one being the world-renowned Dr George Ndukwe (of the Zita West Clinic in London) who ultimately put us on the right treatment plan which gave us our gorgeous baby girl. She told me I would have my baby. It helped. After a few months of acupuncture, changing my diet and still no luck, Sally suggested that I book to see a consultant at the local NHS hospital’s fertility clinic to have some tests. We had done so many of the ‘have you tried…?’ suggestions with no hint of a pregnancy for a year and so I knew it was time to be brave and see what was going on medically. I don’t think there is even a word powerful enough to describe how petrified I was. I had to do it though for both of us. Discovering Sally, was the best ‘have you tried…?’ imaginable.
Worse was to come, with several long and heartbreaking years ahead but, with a growing support network, we felt a fraction less out of control. We weren’t going to give up on meeting our baby. Period.